General Question

artificialard's avatar

Why can't gay men donate blood?

Asked by artificialard (2273points) August 23rd, 2008

I remember reading about this years ago but thought that it was commenting on a policies from the past but a friend just brought this up today that gay men are still not allowed to donate blood in the US and Canada?!

I mean if the rationale is that gay men are more likely to have a disease transmittable through blood (which I don’t agree with) shouldn’t the blood bank screen all blood for these diseases anyways?

I feel like I’m missing something here…

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38 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Can you say Bush Administration weirdness?

From the AP: “updated 4:38 p.m. ET, Wed., May. 23, 2007

WASHINGTON – Gay men remain banned for life from donating blood, the government said Wednesday, leaving in place — for now — a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions.

The Food and Drug Administration reiterated its long-standing policy on its Web site Wednesday, more than a year after the Red Cross and two other blood groups criticized the policy as “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”

“I am disappointed, I must confess,” said Dr. Celso Bianco, executive vice president of America’s Blood Centers, whose members provide nearly half the nation’s blood supply.”

lefteh's avatar

The government decided in the early 80s that us queer guys are a big risk to public health.
The rationale is that gay men are more likely to be affected by HIV. While this is partially true, HIV tests are extremely accurate and blood that is infected will be discarded. The infection rate is currently 1 out of 2 million units. I’ll repeat that: one out of two million. Health centers are in desperate need of blood.

That being said, it’s really easy for us to say “No, I’m not gay.”

nayeight's avatar

I think it’s a shame that gay men should have to resort to lying about their sexuality just to give blood to those who might need it. But if it’s for saving lives, I’m for it. Our government amazes me.

willbrawn's avatar

I do know this little tidbit of info I leaded from Dr. Drew. Gay males have a high risk of having anal re-construction surgery. Due to the fact that the anal issue does tear during intercourse. That said open wounds do tend to lead to a higher risk of STD’s. And I am not saying that all of them have an STD by any means. But it is becoming more widespread in society. I have a couple of co-workers that are gay and both of them sleep around even though they have a partner. I would assume that would run a greater risk of contracting a disease.

The governmet is being cautious and trying to prevent diseases from spreading.

lefteh's avatar

Gay men have a higher risk of contracting HIV. 19 times more likely, in fact. It’s not because of anal tearing or anal reconstructive surgery. It’s because of factors such as widespread unprotected sex and role versatility.

High risk of anal reconstruction surgery? Are you serious?

nayeight's avatar

Correction: The government is putting fear into the minds of Americans by assuming that most homosexuals have HIV and/or other STDs. Blood banks can be cautious and prevent disease by screening all blood for disease.

Straight people can be just as promiscuous, if not more, than homosexuals. And there are many homosexuals who are in long lasting, monogamous relationships with their partners. Anyone who is having sex runs the risk of contracting a STD.

willbrawn's avatar

@lefteh I said because skin tears leaving them more open to contract a disease. Read what I wrote.

lefteh's avatar

“Gay males have a high risk of having anal re-construction surgery”
Either you’re tragically misinformed, or you have a very liberal definition of “high risk.”

Also, if anal sex is done properly, skin tears are quite rare.

One of the primary reasons that HIV is so much more prevalent in the gay community is role versatility. One could be infected in a receptive position, and then infect someone else in a penetrative position.

kevbo's avatar

To add a little clarification, having homosexual sex is the disqualifying event. Simply “being gay” is not. A straight man can be disqualified for an incident of homosexual sex, as he (or she) can for having sex in exchange for drugs or money. It’s about risky behavior rather than sexual disposition.

augustlan's avatar

Isn’t all the blood screened anyway? If that’s the case, what does it matter who gives it? Homophobia.

lefteh's avatar

kevbo is correct. However, I disagree that homosexual sex is “risky behavior.”

@augustlan: The FDA’s argument is that blood could be given in what is called the window period. There is a window of time, usually about three months, between being infected with HIV and being able to test positive for HIV.

Here is the FDA’s webpage describing the policy.

augustlan's avatar

Ok, but, an HIV infected heterosexual could donate in the window period, too.

lefteh's avatar

@augustlan: Exactly why the policy needs to be lifted.

augustlan's avatar

So: Homophobia is the answer to this question.

lefteh's avatar

I don’t think that it is so much homophobia as a good effort gone awry. In the 80s, when little was known about HIV, the FDA was trying to protect the public. We knew men who have sex with men are more likely to contract the virus. I think that it was a honest, nevertheless mistaken, effort to protect blood recipients.

That being said, homophobia could very well be a contributing factor as to why the ban is still in place.

SuperMouse's avatar

When I first read this question, it brought me back to the 80’s. Does anyone else remember those first articles about the “gay plague” that was originally called Gay Related Immune Deficiency? Back then we were told that the only folks at risk for this teriffying new disease were gay men (not lesbians – just gay men), Haitians and intervenous drug users. That made Americans feel better because it meant it was confined to “those people.” A bit later we learned that because HIV can be passed through blood transfusions, another at risk population was hemophiliacs. (BTW, the blood banks knew for awhile but refused to do anything to mitigate the damage being caused. I highly recommend the book “And the Band Played On…” by Randy Shilts.)

However we know now exactly how and why AIDS is transmitted, we know how to test for HIV and we know that AIDS is not limited to any single demographic or small group of demographics. This rule is a throw back, it remains simply because of homophobia, and it needs to be changed.

augustlan's avatar

@lefteh: Homophobia is the reason gay men can’t donate blood today. That’s what I meant, sorry I wasn’t clear.

kevbo's avatar

If it makes anyone feel better, I can’t donate blood because I spent more than 2 months in the UK in 1993, which puts me in a demographic that is at risk for spreading mad cow disease. The FDA’s position isn’t even definitive about the risk. The ban is simply a propholactic measure until they get around to determining whether it really is an issue.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Kevbo, wouldn’t Creutzfeldt-Jacobs have shown up by now – 15 years later? I guess better safe than sorry…

kevbo's avatar

Yeah, honestly I don’t know other than what the intake lady told me. Maybe I’m immune but still a carrier. ;-)

* prophylactic *

SuperMouse's avatar

That is interesting, and I guess I feel better knowing that there is no blood out there and available for transfusion that visited the UK in the early 90’s. Although it seems to me that we would all be better served if the government did a lot more to regulate the beef industry. Like actually paying attention to what livestock is being fed and taking the issue of “downer cows” more seriously.

artificialard's avatar

OK so I guess that statistically gay men may be have a higher chance of having HIV but you can dice such distinctions any number of ways: people from Africa, heterosexual drunk college kids, and oddly enough seniors all have their own elevated HIV potentials.

HIV is not a “minimize” how much we take in so much as it must have a negligible risk factor for any donated blood, which means that blood screening should be overwhelming accurate, as anyone is a potential HIV carrier.

So my question is, if blood screening should detect infected donations from any heterosexual person that may or may not be a greater risk factor than homosexuals, what difference does it make??

breedmitch's avatar

@lefteh: “we” queer guys. sorry

lefteh's avatar

You’re absolutely correct.

chromaBYTE's avatar

It’s an archaic policy back when HIV was a “gay disease”, but the Red Cross refuses to let go of it. The following is an extract from an article found here.

Associate Professor and Director of Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria, Anne Mitchell spoke in front of the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal yesterday, indicating men should be assessed on what they’ve done, not who they are. The ban she said, can be likened to refusing a donor for “being Jewish or Indigenous.”

“Many of the samples in studies cited by the Red Cross are very small, recruited from men at high risk, and explicitly exclude men who practise safe sex in monogamous relationships. They are not representative of all men who have sex with men,” said Mitchell, speaking to the tribunal.

Noting a recent study which found that the chances of heterosexual HIV transmission may have been underestimated by 300%, Prof Mitchell said.

“In those whose behaviour is exclusively heterosexual, safe sex practices are less common… if there was an outbreak of HIV amongst heterosexuals in Australia it would clearly spread more rapidly than it would in the gay community.”

Considered an expert in HIV/AIDS community development work, Mitchell ran workplace workshops educating about HIV throughout the height of Australian era of ‘AIDS panic’ in the eighties, and has pushed for the safety of same-sex attracted youth in schools.

Canada and the United States continue to ban gay-men from blood donation, while Spain does not question individuals on sexual preference, only sexual practice. Spain also maintains one of the highest amount of donations in the world.

The exact law in Australia is that we aren’t allowed to donate blood if we’ve had sex with a man in the past year, or had sex with someone we thought could be bisexual.

chromaBYTE's avatar

Sorry, one more small bit of an article found here.
Sorry for the long posts.

It’s also been revealed at the hearing that the chances of HIV infected blood from gay men in Tasmania slipping through would be once every 197 years. Under the proposed safe-sex donors only system sought by the challenger, Michael Cain, that figure drops to once every 5769 years.

lefteh's avatar

Woah there, chroma.
It isn’t the Red Cross that won’t let go of it. In fact, they are vehemently opposed to it.
It’s the Food and Drug Administration.

bunkin's avatar

anal sex is the issue here. even if you are hetero you cant if you answer yes to that question.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@kevbo – Me, too.. I lived in France in the 1993–1994 school year and I can’t donate, either, due to the supposed risk of Mad Cow.

I was really curious about it and asked the lady a bunch of questions. I pointed out that it had been like 10 years, wouldn’t I know if I had Mad Cow by now? She told me they didn’t know that much about it, they thought it could be stored in the body indefinitely and transmitted through blood and plasma. I seem to remember something about there not being a test for it, but I could just be filling that in myself.

I think it’s about time to remove the rule that gay men can’t donate.. it’s discriminatory and, frankly, completely useless. It’s not like people can’t lie! And why in the world would you want to cut off a portion of potential donors when the need is always so great?

bunkin's avatar


missjena's avatar

because of HIV

MissAnthrope's avatar

@missjena – I think the point is that HIV is not a gay-only disease, nor is there really any way to prove someone is gay, should they (those creating guidelines for blood donation) think as you do.

FreddieMack's avatar

The government put out AIDS in order to wipe out the Homosexual culture. Enough said.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Uh. And my spaceship will be coming soon to take me to my home planet, Xenon.

JLeslie's avatar

HIV and Hep B and C are found statistically more often in gay men than straight, and there is the window of time where the test for HIV can be undetected. So statistically you are more likely to get “bad” blood from a gay man. I would guess drug users also have very high stats, but of course both groups could lie. Personally, I would always donate my own blood ahead of time if I was scheduling a surgery that was likely to need transfusions. We do screen all blood, but before HIV we used to screen blood for stuff too, but we did not know HIV had developed. Who knows what we don’t know? Since illness transmitted through blood are more likely to occur in certain groups it seems prudent to not allow those groups to give blood. It costs money to screen blood, and then if you have to throw it away it was all for naught.

Having said all of that I don’t know if I agree with the policy, because it is still probably statistically unlikely a gay man has HIV.

lefteh's avatar

The “gay men are more than straight men likely to have HIV” argument is invalid. Though that is indeed a fact (71% of men infected with HIV have sex with other men while only 7% of males identify as MSM), this situation is not exclusive to MSM. The donor discrimination is.
For example, Blacks compose 13% of the U.S. population, but 50% of HIV cases. Imagine the outcry if Black people were banned from donating blood…why are we any different?

JLeslie's avatar

@lefteh Really good points.

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